Case Study: Why Static Ads Don’t Work For a Seasonal Business

Neal Schwartz is the director of Tutoring Club, a learning center for students in Armonk, New York. Although he advertises regularly on a number of hyperlocal news sites, he finds it’s difficult to assess the value in online advertising and gets frustrated with local publishers who aren’t responsive to his needs as the owner of a seasonal business.

What are your biggest challenges when trying to reach parents and students who need tutoring services?
I’m trying to figure out what it is going through their minds and trying to time the offers and communication to fit that. We have a very seasonal business in that it’s report-card focused. If a student doesn’t do well in school and the parents thinks they could do better, there’s a cycle throughout the entire year. So what I will advertise at the beginning of the school year – or even around the report-card periods – will be different than what I do toward the end of the year. You know, “Did your kid not tell you about the assignment until Sunday night, and then there’s no time to do it?” So, I frame the questions for not only the time of year, but even getting down to a little bit finer mode.

How do your ads on hyperlocal news sites like NewCastleNOW fit into that?
For online publications it’s hard because the ads theoretically can be changed often, but I have to have something that’s almost more like a phonebook ad. So I try to rotate the different things we do with a rotating file. I use another publication here in Armonk where I rotate out [the ads] I use, so it looks like they’re flashing, even if they’re not. That becomes pretty important in my view. My view is to try and keep something up so at least [parents] will notice.

The hardest part about [NewCastleNOW] in particular is that the readership may be looking for particular ads, or political news stories, or the development that is supposed to come in, but they may just be looking for hot news. So it is subliminal if they happen to find my ad. In that particular publication, and another one that’s also in the town where I work, it’s questionable how much value I really get out of that. Theoretically I’ll go to the sophistication of the owner. Like when I asked one of the owners – I said, “Will you give me the clicks that I get off your site, that I’m paying for,” and I get silence.

How else, besides offering analytics tools to tell how many people are clicking on each ad, could hyperlocal sites better serve their advertisers?
The currency of the ad is very important. I don’t find that from these online publications. Unlike the print publications, where each month I’m giving them a new ad to get put out. It makes me thinks of all the differences of that seasonality and the messaging I need.

So the failure, in my opinion, of the online [publications] is that they’ve gotten to where they’re just billing me once a month. I won’t hear from them for a whole year. Yes, it might cost a bit less than some of the other ads that I’ve got, but I’m also running a business. Even if they sent an email out. What I get from these [publications] is: “Your ad hasn’t changed,” when the reality is they don’t want me to change the ad. They want me to keep the same ad up there. It’s not about design, it’s just they don’t have the staff to go and change it.

By not changing it, it looks like – why is he advertising? The only way to make it is [by using] a generic ad. So I’m not sure it’s helping me, because the concern is varied throughout the year in my business.

That’s not true of every business. A restaurant is a restaurant is a restaurant, although even restaurants are offering specials around Valentine’s Day and specials around other times the year that become important. With the [online publications] that do change the ads, it’s great to really get that. [In Armonk] there are some political reasons why I need to be in these publications – you know, for a friend of a friend. But if I’m not getting value, I’ll just drop out as an advertiser and then the revenue stops.

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Street Fight Daily: 06.23.11